Thursday, December 04, 2008

She was damn good dancer, but she wasn't all that great of a girlfriend

I've mentioned Michael MacCambridge's book on the NFL, America's Game, a few times on this blog as it really is a fantastic read. Here's one of many great maxims I took from that book: NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, a former PR executive, said the best way for the NFL to stay on top of the sports news was to stay out of the business and labour news.

This is lesson that Betteman and the NHL could really take to heart.

I worked in PR for nearly a decade and I'm not far from it now. Unfortunately, instead of it being a stepping stone towards becoming the commissioner of a major sports league, my job often entailed working with c and d-list celebrity spokespeople (maybe f or g list actually).

Shampoo, appliances, cleaning supplies and teeth whitener. Former soap stars, Olympians, Emmy nominees who were never heard from again and way too many "hey aren't you that guy?" actors. I worked them all.

I also tried to meet their unique demands (need a first class airline ticket for you dog? Sure thing. A hotel room without any carpets or carpeting in Toronto? I'm all over that. A full set of cowboy duds for your "special lady friend?" let me get my credit card.)

I don't know that I learned much from these experiences.

People are petty. The public has a bizarrely insatiable demand to meet someone that had a Food Network Canada show in 1992. If you were a runner up on Survivor you get a little more, but not much more, than your fifteen minutes of fame. Former down and out actors who didn't know where their next cheque was coming from are unashamed about wallowing at the trough (and ordering the porterhouse for two at dinner and taking the world's biggest doggie bag back to the hotel).

The one thing that I did learn is companies are adamant about having morality clauses in their contracts for good reason. You never know when a celebrity spokesperson will do something to embarrass the brand, like, oh I don't know, being accused of rape, indicted on indecency charges, or shooting off their mouth about an ex-girlfriend in front of a media scrum.

Now clearly, one of these things is not like the other. Sean Avery, with his idiot comments to the media, didn't break any laws or do anything criminal, but I think a pretty good case could be made that he may have contravened the morality clause in the NHL Standard Players Contract (SPC).

I was going to bore everyone (I guess further bore would be more accurate) with a look at the morality clauses of an NHL SPC - the important paragraphs are literally right after the blank lines for salary dollars - but Eric Duhatschek has beaten me to the punch.

So go read the Hat's article, it's a very interesting take on what may lie ahead for the Stars, the NHLPA and a possible legal precedent for the elimination of cap hits and salary dollars.

And while Duhatschek may be a fine journalist who has spent his entire career entrenched in the world of hockey and he may have beaten me to the punch with his great take, I think you should ask yourself this: has he worked with corporations that were visibly crushed when their celebrity spokespeople weren't named to the Advertising Walk of Fame? I think we all know the answer to that one.

At least I've got that going for me.


  1. Anonymous3:53 pm

    Nice Hold Steady reference in the title.

  2. Anonymous9:16 am

    So the standard players contract has a morality clause that deals with conduct on and off the ice.

    My question is: how serious is the NHL in enforcing this? It's pretty easy when a widely-loathed problem player steps up to a mike and tangentially slams his ex as just another plaything tossed from player to player.

    But is this a unique viewpoint among NHL players? I doubt it--and it goes beyond words to real action. Don't we all suspect that underneath the complete "code of silence" that surrounds each team in terms of their off-ice antics, hundreds of NHL players act out their misogynist fantasies in hotel rooms across North America. You think team and league management don't know this occurs? You don't think they know about specific incidents that -- if they ever came to light -- would reflect very poorly on the league in any number of ways?

    If a morality clause is used to negate any part of Avery's contract, then I think Avery has a strong argument that the NHL condones this type of behaviour through its own non-action in cases that are buried as soon as they are uncovered.

    Perhaps his only immoral act was stepping up to a mike and exposing NHL culture for what it really is. If the David Frost trial taught us anything, it was that these attitudes can be ingrained from a very young age.

  3. Paul R. - Thanks for the comment. I agree that there is much that likely goes on behind closed doors that would contravene the morality clause of a NHL SPC. The difference with Avery is, as you said, he did his schtick in front of a microphone and a bank of TV cameras.

    Does that make it worse than other, private, behaviours? I suppose not, but by being public it certainly provides the Stars and the NHL with the opportunity to use the morality clause to deal with Avery.

    If I were an exec with the Stars, I'd be looking at every possible angle in an effort to eliminate what's looking more and more like a bad contract.

    I will say, if there's one thing I've learned from hanging out with too many lawyers it's this: just about any position is arguable.

    Hope you comment more in the future!

  4. Anonymous11:04 am

    First, there is no such thing as hanging out with "too many" lawyers. You should consider yourself lucky to have been graced with the presence of any lawyer you meet and count yourself lucky if lightning strikes twice. ;-)

    Second, if you have learned that "just about" any position is arguable you definitely need to meet more lawyers. ANY position is arguable. It all depends on how you spin the facts and your audience. Whether the argument is successful is another matter altogether.

    Third, the Avery incident is being dealt with so seriously by the league not simply because it was in the public eye, but because it was so obviously premeditated. There have been arguably more embarrassing incidents for the league involving bigger stars of the game (think Belfour's drunken offer to bribe the Dallas police, or Roy's domestic assault on his wife) but those were different because they weren't specifically designed for public consumption. They were bad decisions a player made in their personal life that happened to become public by due process. There was no obvious attempt to bring the league into disrepute. Avery knew what he was doing and had obviously rehearsed his speech beforehand. It was intended to cause controversy and to become headline news.

    I would love to see the Stars take a stab at canceling his contract by relying on the morality clause. If they don't then they might was well take the clause out of the SPC because if it doesn't have the teeth to attack this situation then it is simply useless verbiage.

  5. Anonymous10:34 pm

    I hadn't thought of the pre-mediated angle raised by Paul S., but that should only go to the severity of the punishment I think. The NHL morality clause doesn't seem to require that the player "intend" to bring the NHL into disrepute. It simply requires a player "to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standard of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship, and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League or professional hockey."

    I sound too much like I'm defending this jerk, and I could really care less if he plays another NHL game, but I'm bothered by the hypocrisy. Is it worse than Patrick Roy scaring and endangering his own family members? I doubt it, but Roy is one of the best goalies to have ever played the game. That's the difference. Avery is marginal, and different rules apply.

    I guess a contract in the end is between two parties, and if there's a breach by one party (player), it's in the discretion of the other party (the NHL) if and when it wants to "call" the other party on the breach and take action.

    I'm just thinking that since the term "morality' is so vague, the NHL's non-action in other cases could make it difficult for the NHL to define it the way they'd like to in this case.